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Review into shortening self-isolation given ‘stark’ NHS absences confirmed

by Jess Hacker
12 January 2022

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The Government is looking at cutting the self-isolation period in light of ‘stark’ staff absences across the NHS, the prime minister Boris Johnson has said.

The statement came during Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs)s today (12 January), during which Boris Johnson was asked to consider reducing the window – which currently stands at 10 days, or seven following two negative lateral flow tests – down to five days.

Simon Fell, the MP for Barrow and Furness, informed the prime minister that the impact Covid was having on his local NHS Trust was ‘stark’, with between 12% and 15% of their workforce away isolating.

It also had around 140 beds blocked due to problems discharging patients into social care or community settings.

Mr Johnson responded that the Government was ‘certainly’ looking at reducing the period, promising to provide an update on the review ‘as fast as possible’.

It comes after calls from within the Government and from those in the health sector to review the evidence for a safe cut to the isolation period.

Over the weekend, education secretary Nadhim Zahawi suggested reducing the period would help solve staffing shortages in schools.

And last week, the NHS Confederation called for the Government to review the self-isolation period to see if it could be safely cut to five days.

It said: ‘We would not want a reduction to be counterproductive but if the isolation period could be safely shortened, this would significantly help to reduce the level of staff absence over the rest of the winter.’

The calls for a review highlight the scale of the staffing crisis in general practice and across the NHS, which saw as many as 21% of doctors self-isolating over the last two weeks.

NHSE told services this week that they should risk assess staff still testing positive via LFT after 10 days to get them back to work, under new guidance intended to curb absences.

It also announced this week that it had struck a three-month deal with private providers to help NHS systems cover missing staff and manage capacity in Covid ‘surge’ areas.